Understanding Barrett's Esophagus & Esophagus Disorders
The esophagus is the tube that carries food, liquids and saliva from your mouth to the stomach. You may not be aware of your esophagus until you swallow something too large, too hot or too cold. You may also become aware of it when something is wrong.
The most common problem with the esophagus is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It happens when a band of muscle at the end of your esophagus does not close properly. This allows stomach contents to leak back, or reflux, into the esophagus and irritate it. Over time, GERD can cause damage to the esophagus. Other problems include heartburn and cancer.
Treatment depends on the problem. Some get better with over-the-counter medicines or changes in diet. Others may need prescription medicines or surgery.
What is Barrett's Esophagus?
Barrett’s Esophagus is a condition of the esophagus in which the normal lining of the esophagus has been replaced by cells from the intestine in a process called specialized intestinal metaplasia. It occurs in about 10% of people who have chronic or long-standing gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This change of one cell type into another is the result of your body’s protection mechanism against GERD. Although the risk is low in most patients, Barrett’s Esophagus can progress to a type of cancer known as esophageal cancer (adenocarcinoma). At the present time, no one can predict which patients with Barrett’s Esophagus will develop cancer. It is, therefore, recommended that all patients who have Barrett’s Esophagus have their esophagus periodically checked to detect cancer when it is early and more likely to be successfully treated.
Barrett’s Esophagus is a condition in which the lining at the lower end of the esophagus is damaged by stomach acid. Normally, stomach acid is kept from splashing back up into the esophagus by the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a muscular valve that opens and closes when you eat or drink. When the valve doesn’t work properly, you experience a reflux of stomach acid, commonly known as heartburn or acid reflux.
When this irritation is severe or occurs frequently over a long period of time, it is referred to as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD, in turn, can cause an abnormal growth of intestinal-type cells, like those found in the stomach, to occur at the lower end of the esophagus. The abnormal growth, or dysplasia, of these cells in the area just above the LES is the distinguishing feature of
Barrett’s Esophagus. In rare cases, the abnormal cells can result in cancer of the lower esophagus.
How is Barrett's Esophagus Diagnosed?
During Endoscopy Screening, a thin, flexible tube with a light is inserted through the mouth into the esophagus. This device gives your doctor the ability to see the lining of your esophagus. If an area appears abnormal, a biopsy is taken. This biopsy is reviewed under a microscope by a pathologist who specializes in gastrointestinal pathology. A diagnosis is made and if Barrett’s Esophagus is found, an appropriate treatment will be recommended by your physician.
What are the Symptoms of Barrett's Esophagus?
The most common symptom associated with Barrett’s Esophagus is heartburn (GERD). Other symptoms associated with Barrett’s are bleeding from esophageal ulcers and or dysphagia (inability to swallow properly) due to a stricture in the esophagus.
Who is at Risk for Developing Barrett's Esophagus?
Although anyone of any age, gender or race with a chronic problem with heartburn could develop Barrett’s Esophagus, it is more common in caucasian men over the age of 50 years old.
Can Complications Result from Barrett's Esophagus?
Barrett’s Esophagus, if untreated, can develop into cancer. Fortunately, the results of multiple studies indicate that ~90-95% of patients who have Barrett’s Esophagus, DO NOT develop cancer.